Cultures as Costumes

Megna Joshi, Website Editor

Halloween and costume parties are a great way to dress up as a favorite character and pretend to be a different person. At the same time, it can be seen as offensive to certain cultures because people tend to use traditional dresses as “costumes” for Halloween. While this may upset some people, I strongly believe that if done in the right way, cultures can be celebrated through dressing up in traditional clothing. I think it is more than important to teach people a traditional dress and the background behind it rather than shutting them down by calling it “appropriation.” It is hard to differentiate what motive someone has when dressing up a certain way, but most of the time I believe it is not malicious.

Olivia posing in a traditional Indian clothing alongside her friend also dressed up in traditional Indian clothing. Photo by Olivia Hamlyn.

This is because in many cases, people dress up to embrace the culture rather than disgrace it. Personally, because I come from a Nepali background, seeing people in saris makes me feel like they are celebrating my culture and it makes me feel happy to see them learning about new things rather than being ignorant and pushing them away. For example, a few months ago my friend that lives in Manchester, England wanted to dress up in traditional clothing in order to learn about Indian culture. Her name is Olivia Hamlyn (pictured below) and she dressed up in order to learn and appreciate rather than degrade. Hamlyn says, “I love dressing up in different traditional clothing to learn about the culture and get outside of my comfort zone.”

I do believe, however, that dressing up in a certain culture to discriminate against or make fun of that culture is wrong and unjustified. It is hard to tell if someone dresses up in a certain costume that they are doing it for the right reasons or not. A popular saying that has been floating around the internet for some time now is, “my culture is not a costume.” This can be taken both ways, but personally I think that if someone is able to tastefully dress up in the clothes of a  certain culture without it being offensive then it is completely justified.